NFL Nation reporters make predictions for the top internal free agent on every team.
Middle linebacker Preston Brown
He has played almost every snap for the Bills the past three seasons and has worn the defensive radio helmet since being drafted in the third round in 2014. General manager Brandon Beane said at the NFL combine that he is “very interested” in re-signing Brown, but it will ultimately come down to price. Brown led the league in tackles this past season, and comparable deals last offseason paid the Rams’ Alec Ogletree $10.5 million per year, the Browns’ Christian Kirksey $9.5 million, and the Dolphins’ Kiko Alonso $8.3 million.
Prediction: Brown will get a big deal, but not with the Bills, who will find a more athletic replacement in free agency or the draft. — Mike Rodak
Wide receiver Jarvis Landry
Landry’s future with the Dolphins is iffy at best. He will sign the non-exclusive franchise tag and is currently being shopped by his agent. The Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears are among at least five teams to talk with Landry’s agent about a trade for the Pro Bowl receiver.
Prediction: He won’t play for the Dolphins next season. — ESPN.com
Left tackle Nate Solder
Starting left tackles like Solder, who was a 2017 Pro Bowl alternate and enters his eighth NFL season, are commanding in the range of $11-12 million per season. The Patriots drafted Tony Garcia in the third round last year as a possible replacement, but he missed his entire rookie season on the non-football injury list and can’t be viewed as a surefire fallback plan. So the Patriots should make an aggressive attempt to bring Solder back, and if the offer is competitive, the odds of him staying would seem high.
Prediction: Solder will be back with the Patriots, as they can’t afford to lose him. — Mike Reiss
Quarterback Josh McCown
His future with the Jets hinges on whether they sign Kirk Cousins. If they lose out on Cousins, they will try to re-sign McCown and could have him compete against another veteran, possibly Teddy Bridgewater. McCown figures to earn in the $6-8 million per year range.
Prediction: McCown will re-sign with the Jets (one year, $8 million) and will serve as a “bridge” quarterback, mentoring a rookie. — Rich Cimini
Center Ryan Jensen
He went from being a first-year full-time starter to one of the top rising centers in the NFL. Jensen’s success should make him a coveted interior offensive lineman in free agency. He will likely receive a deal that averages $9 million per season.
Prediction: The Ravens would love to keep him, but it looks like he’ll join Kelechi Osemele and Rick Wagner as offensive linemen who were lured elsewhere by a big contract that Baltimore couldn’t match. –– Jamison Hensley
Tight end Tyler Eifert
The Bengals would like to have Eifert back, but there’s a reason they didn’t put the franchise tag on him: Any new contract is going to come with some restrictions, likely in the form of heavy incentives. When healthy, Eifert is one of the top tight ends on the market, but his injury history makes things a bit more complicated. There’s a small chance Eifert agrees to a contract with Cincinnati, but it’s more likely — with the state of the free-agent tight end market — that another team will be more willing to give him money without the restrictions.
Prediction: He’s likely to be in another uniform next season. — Katherine Terrell
Running back Isaiah Crowell
Crowell averaged more than 4 yards per carry the past two years, but never got the ball enough to his liking. He’ll seek a team that will give him more carries.
Prediction: He will play with a new team in 2018. — Pat McManamon
Running back Le’Veon Bell
The Steelers placed the franchise tag on Bell for the second consecutive year, setting the stage for another summer of tense negotiations and only one promise — that the tag pays $14.5 million, if Bell signs it. Both sides want Bell to retire a Steeler, but Pittsburgh hasn’t reached Bell’s asking price, which is at least $14.5 million per year on a long-term deal. Bell has said he’ll consider retirement if asked to play on the tag again. Meanwhile, the Steelers will consider all options, including an escape plan if necessary.
Prediction: The Steelers can and will make a Bell extension work, something in the $14-15 million per year range. — Jeremy Fowler
Cornerback Johnathan Joseph
Joseph will be 34 when the 2018 season starts, but was the team’s highest-rated cornerback last season. He made $6.75 million in 2017 and could re-sign for less than that. Coach Bill O’Brien thinks highly of Joseph, particularly his leadership in the locker room.
Prediction: The Texans will likely bring him back on a one- or two-year deal. — Sarah Barshop
Cornerback Rashaan Melvin
Melvin went from looking like he could be the odd person out in the cornerback mix at the start of last season to being the team’s No. 1 cornerback, replacing veteran Vontae Davis in that role. The Colts want to re-sign Melvin, but it’s probably more likely they tell him goodbye because general manager Chris Ballard said they plan to “let the market play out.” The market for free-agent cornerbacks is relatively thin, which means the 28-year-old Melvin is in position to get overpaid in free agency.
Prediction: Melvin will get offered and sign a bigger deal elsewhere. — Mike Wells
Wide receiver Allen Robinson
Robinson is coming off a torn left ACL, but he’s still the Jaguars’ best receiver. He’s also the only one on the roster who is a proven downfield threat. He led the NFL in catches of 20 or more yards in 2015 (31), but that number dropped off significantly in 2016 (11) when he and quarterback Blake Bortles struggled through a terrible season. Robinson had a great camp in 2017 before getting injured in the season opener. The Jaguars declined to use the franchise tag on Robinson, but are still hoping to get him back on a more reasonable deal.
Prediction: It will go right up until March 14, but the two sides manage to come to a deal and Robinson is back on the field for the Jaguars in 2018. — Mike DiRocco
Guard Josh Kline
The Titans have a few decisions to make regarding their interior offensive line, but it starts with Kline, who has been a starting-caliber guard supplying versatility (left or right) and durability. He has missed just two games due to injury over the past three seasons. Kline took a step back as a run-blocker in 2017, but he was solid as a pass-protector. Tennessee probably could upgrade at this spot, but it could cost big money. The Titans have some interest in bringing Kline back, and he’s a decent fit in their new zone-blocking scheme. But his market could demand a long-term deal similar to recently paid guards such as Brandon Brooks and Brian Winters, and he might get it.
Prediction: Unless that number comes down, he’ll likely be playing elsewhere. — Cameron Wolfe
Linebacker Todd Davis
The Broncos don’t have many of their starters up for unrestricted free agency this year, with Davis, tight end Virgil Green and wide receiver Cody Latimer leading the way. Davis, who has been a starter for the past two seasons, is the one general manager John Elway has spoken the most about retaining. The Broncos like Davis’ game-day intensity, his preparation and the fact he has produced since they claimed him off waivers from the Saints in 2014. Davis has started 29 games over the past two seasons, with 92 tackles in 2016 to go with 82 in 2017. Elway will likely let Davis see what kind of offer is out in the market for him, but in the end the Broncos would like Davis back if the two sides can agree on the money.
Prediction: Unless Davis finds a big contract elsewhere that the Broncos believe isn’t in their budget, he’ll re-sign. — Jeff Legwold
Defensive tackle Bennie Logan
Losing Logan would leave a gap in Kansas City’s defensive line, but the Chiefs can find a way to replace Logan’s production at a lower cost. Logan, who signed a one-year contract worth $8 million last year in free agency, will be looking for a longer-term deal this time around.
Prediction: Logan will be playing for a different team in 2018. — Adam Teicher
Safety Tre Boston
Boston led the Chargers in defensive snaps (986) and interceptions (5) in 2017. General manager Tom Telesco said he liked the vocal way Boston led on the field, and the fact he did not miss any practice time last season. At 25, he’s also young.
Prediction: The Chargers will keep him in the fold on a multiyear deal at a reasonable price. — Eric D. Williams
Middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman
Bowman joined the Raiders in Week 7 and started right away after being cut by the 49ers. He solidified the middle of the defense and finished with 89 tackles, tying for the team lead in just 10 games. His veteran presence was a salve for Oakland’s young linebackers, and it makes sense to bring him back. General manager Reggie McKenzie said at the combine that he wants to re-sign Bowman, who turns 30 in March and has shown the effects of his reconstructed left knee and Achilles injuries suffered in 2013 and 2016. But not at a price that would break the bank. Bowman also said he would be intrigued to play for Jon Gruden.
Prediction: Unless another team pays above market, Bowman should return to Oakland. — Paul Gutierrez
Linebacker Anthony Hitchens
The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, which makes Hitchens their biggest free agent. The Cowboys spoke with his agent at the combine and want to keep him. He starts at middle linebacker and can play all three spots. He recorded more than 90 tackles, according to the coaches’ stats, in three of his four seasons. He embodies the “right kind of guy” ethos Jason Garrett wants. But there’s a cost to everything. Like Barry Church last year, the Cowboys likely won’t be able to match what Hitchens can get on the open market. Many signs point toward the Colts being one of his suitors with Matt Eberflus as their new defensive coordinator.
Prediction: It’s time to say goodbye to Hitchens and hope Jaylon Smith and/or a high draft pick can replace him. — Todd Archer
Guard Justin Pugh
Pugh has been the Giants’ best and most versatile offensive lineman for several years. He has done whatever the team has asked — sacrificing his own personal interests for the Giants’ benefit — and made 37 starts at right tackle and 26 at left guard. He even has one at left tackle. Guards at his level command $10 million or more on the open market.
Prediction: It’s likely Pugh gets that money elsewhere. — Jordan Raanan
Linebacker Nigel Bradham
The 28-year-old Bradham had 85 tackles (five for loss), a sack and eight passes defensed for the Super Bowl champions. He also took on more of a leadership role in his second year in Philly, particularly after middle linebacker Jordan Hicks went down with an Achilles injury. The Eagles see the value there, but are also tight against the salary cap and have indicated they aren’t in a position to open the vault for any player at the moment.
Prediction: Unless the market is weaker than anticipated for Bradham, the Eagles will reluctantly say goodbye. — Tim McManus
Quarterback Kirk Cousins
Yeah, this one is easy and his fate was sealed the moment Washington traded for Alex Smith in January. Truth is, though, Cousins was only going to stick around on a franchise (or transition) tag, and the Redskins knew this. Once this got to a tag situation in 2016, it was always going to be tough for Washington to sign him long term. Clearly this has moved beyond whether he’ll return to the Redskins. The big question becomes where does he go? My answer: Minnesota. The Vikings offer the best team and have some cap flexibility in the future.
Prediction: If he wants to win now and for several years, it’ll be hard to top the Vikings. — John Keim
Cornerback Kyle Fuller
The Bears placed the transition tag on Fuller for $12.971 million. Chicago can match any offer, but also runs the risk of losing Fuller without receiving compensation in return. Fuller is a curious case. Chicago’s first-round pick in 2014, Fuller is coming off arguably his best professional season with 22 pass breakups. But the Bears very publicly questioned Fuller’s desire to play two seasons ago when the cornerback missed the entire 2016 campaign due to what the team called routine arthroscopic knee surgery. Still, the Bears want Fuller to return and should be able to keep him without wildly overpaying to do so.
Prediction: Best guess is Fuller receives interest/offers from other teams, but in the end, he’s wearing a Bears uniform in 2018. — Jeff Dickerson
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata
Ngata had a biceps injury that required surgery and kept him on injured reserve. Had the injury not happened, there’s a chance the 34-year-old might have retired following last season. But he has since said he wants to come back. He’s not the Pro Bowl player he once was, but if he’s willing to take a reasonable deal with the Lions, he might end up back in Detroit. Ngata was effective when he was in the lineup in 2017, but retaining him will be a difficult decision that could all come down to the money. The Lions have a decent amount to spend, but they have to decide whether to invest in an older player who has had injury issues during his time in Detroit.
Prediction: It’s a tough call, but ultimately the Lions and Ngata find a workable number on a short-term deal, so he re-signs. — Michael Rothstein
Safety Morgan Burnett
The Packers let safety Micah Hyde leave in free agency last year and he flourished with the Bills. Will that impact their decision on Burnett? It shouldn’t. He’s not worth the money the Bills gave Hyde ($6.1 million/year). If the Packers can get Burnett back for less, then it’s a viable option. Otherwise, they should say goodbye since he’s 29 and has been limited by some minor but nagging injuries.
Prediction: The best guess is the Packers move on. — Rob Demovsky
Quarterback Case Keenum
Minnesota chose to not use the franchise tag on Keenum, catapulting him into free agency along with the two other starting QBs: Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford. The Vikings are one of four teams expected to vie for Kirk Cousins in free agency. If Minnesota misses out on Cousins, it could hope to retain Keenum for another season. The price tag to do that could be north of $20 million, as has been the rumored price for Denver and Arizona. It’s really simple: Re-signing or saying goodbye to Keenum comes down to whether Minnesota is a legitimate player in the Cousins sweepstakes. When that first domino falls, projecting where Keenum lands will be easier.
Prediction: Keenum is gone in free agency. — Courtney Cronin
Defensive tackle Dontari Poe
The two-time Pro Bowler did his job as a run-stuffer, but the Falcons needed more pass rush from him. Poe signed a one-year, $8 million deal and no doubt will look to average the same or more in a multiyear contract. Said general manager Thomas Dimitroff: “We’re in a spot right now where there’s a very good chance that he’s going to go to free agency and land a very lucrative deal. So we appreciate what he has done with us.”
Prediction: The Falcons will say goodbye to Poe. — Vaughn McClure
Guard Andrew Norwell
He didn’t allow a sack or quarterback hit last season. He is considered one of the top free agents, and likely will move on because general manager Marty Hurney won’t strap himself under the salary cap to keep a player the Panthers got as an undrafted free agent in 2014. The Panthers have the option of moving last year’s second-round pick, Taylor Moton, from tackle to guard.
Prediction: Expect the Giants, led by former Carolina GM Dave Gettleman, to make a run at Norwell. — David Newton
Quarterback Drew Brees
Not a lot of mystery here, since everyone involved keeps insisting a deal will get done before the future Hall of Famer even has a chance to test the open market on March 14. There’s also not a lot of mystery surrounding the Saints’ second-biggest free agent, either: safety Kenny Vaccaro. Sources have already indicated he’s leaving and the Saints have already replaced him by signing veteran Kurt Coleman. That leaves guard Senio Kelemete as the biggest question mark. As much as the team would like to keep him as an invaluable “sixth man,” the guess here is that he is wiped away by a team offering a starting gig.
Prediction: I expect Brees to sign a short-term extension before any other teams even get a chance to tempt him. — Mike Triplett
Cornerback Brent Grimes
Grimes is going on 35 years old, but the Bucs’ secondary was night and day when he was out with a shoulder injury and led the NFL with 24 passes defensed in 2016. The Bucs told Grimes at the end of the 2017 season that they wanted to have him back. Grimes indicated he was also interested, and that he wouldn’t take long to make a decision. While Grimes enjoyed the environment in Tampa, making the playoffs is important to him, too, something the Bucs have not done since 2007. At this point, it could go either way, but Tampa does have to prepare for life without him because of his age.
Prediction: It looks less likely that Grimes will return. — Jenna Laine
Wide receiver John Brown
The one-time 1,000-yard receiver has been riddled with injuries and health issues since he blew up in 2015. He had 517 yards in 2016 and 219 last season — neither total good enough for the massive deal he would’ve otherwise commanded with three 1,000-yard seasons. The Cardinals could offer a flier on Brown to keep him for a year or two, but I don’t see Arizona doing that because there will be a sizable market for his size.
Prediction: Brown likely won’t play in Arizona next season. — Josh Weinfuss
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins
The Rams chose to franchise safety Lamarcus Joyner, but they would still like to keep Watkins. That won’t be easy. Watkins has a history of foot injuries and is coming off only a 593-yard season, but he stayed healthy throughout 2017 and some still value him as a No. 1 receiver. Watkins will join Allen Robinson among the most coveted free-agent receivers, and there is enough cap space leaguewide to make one believe that a team can easily outbid the Rams. They have a little more than $35 million in cap space, but still have pressing needs at other positions. Looming over all of that is the hope of signing DT Aaron Donald to the largest contract ever for a defensive player. Watkins is more of a luxury than a need, and could price himself out of Los Angeles.
Prediction: Another team outbids the Rams on Watkins. — Alden Gonzalez
Running back Carlos Hyde
Hyde has been the Niners’ starting running back for three seasons. After some injuries plagued him early in his career, he missed just three games over the past two seasons combined. During that span, Hyde has proved capable of being a punishing runner who can be tough to bring down even if he doesn’t boast breakaway speed. The market for Hyde doesn’t figure to reach a place that would make bringing him back out of the question, and he has repeatedly said he’d like to stay in San Francisco. In fact, it was Hyde who was openly speaking of Super Bowls during the Niners’ five-game win streak to close last season. Still, Hyde is not an ideal fit in the Niners’ zone-blocking scheme, and his inconsistency as a pass-catcher could mean the 49ers look for a cheaper, more complete option to go with second-year backs Matt Breida and Joe Williams.
Prediction: Hyde starts anew in a more power-oriented scheme and the 49ers get another running back elsewhere. — Nick Wagoner
Tight end Jimmy Graham
Graham heads toward free agency after an odd season in which he caught 10 touchdown passes — tops among tight ends and tied for second among all pass-catchers — but didn’t produce much outside of the red zone. He struggled with drops en route to only 520 receiving yards, a significant drop-off from his 2016 total of 923. Graham’s age (he’ll turn 32 in November) and major knee injury from 2015 could work against a massive payday in free agency. So will the fact that the tight end market has been stagnant since he signed a four-year, $40 million deal with New Orleans in 2014 — a deal no other player at the position has surpassed. The Seahawks could stand to get younger, and they clearly want to get back to being the formidable running team they haven’t been the past two seasons. Graham doesn’t fit those plans.
Prediction: Graham might be available at a discounted rate, but the guess here is another team ends up paying him. — Brady Henderson